Aucklanders earn the most but are the least happy with their incomes, while people in Wellington and Canterbury are happiest, a new report shows.
The latest Regional Economic Activity report focuses on each of New Zealand's 16 regions and their strengths and weaknesses as the Government looks to boost growth in those areas.
The Government says the report shows the importance of natural resources to the regional economies - that helped pull the country through the financial crisis - while there are "signs of recovery ... across the board".
The report shows that Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch generate 62 per cent of New Zealand's GDP while half of all regions contribute only 16.1 per cent, although regional contributions have remained "relatively stable" in recent years.
It also confirms wages are highest in the main centres - Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, where skill levels are also highest - while Waikato and Taranaki also benefit from high incomes based on high export prices.
And in spite of earning the most, Aucklanders are forced to spend the largest proportion of their incomes on rent, at 23 per cent, compared with only 14 per cent in Southland.
Marlborough and Canterbury have seen the highest growth in employment opportunities and employment rate recently, boosted by viticulture and the rebuild respectively, while Southland, Wellington, Taranaki and Otago are seeing a slower growth in their workforces.
But while Auckland had high employment growth, it also had high population growth and "it appears that significant groups within that population - including migrants and young Maori and Pacifika people - are not participating fully in the economy".
It showed Maori were, on average, less skilled than non-Maori, and less equipped to participate in the workforce, particularly in tight economic times.
"This may partly explain the lower employment rates in the North Island than the South Island," it said.
"Northland, Gisborne and Manawatu-Whanganui seem to be performing the poorest in terms of job opportunities and the ability of local people to take these up."
Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said the report highlighted the diversity in the regions as well as the importance of the natural resources sector to regional economies.
"The report shows that the natural-resource industries are the foundation for economic activity in most of our regional economies," he said.
"Over the last decade, agricultural regions have benefited from rising commodity prices for dairy products and, more recently, meat."
But there were signs of recovery from the global financial crisis across the board, with employment numbers increasing in all regions over the last year, he said.
"The report highlights the strengths and challenges each region faces and the opportunities they have to further contribute to New Zealand's economic growth.
"It is a useful tool to support planning at all levels and I expect it to encourage public debate about how each region can be more successful."
Joyce said the Government was working on a series of more in-depth studies on the East Coast, Northland, Manawatu-Whanganui and Bay of Plenty regions which would provide a more detailed assessment of strengths and weaknesses and how best to boost those economies.
"Nothing creates jobs and boosts incomes better than business growth and investment," Joyce said.
"For New Zealand to build a more productive and competitive economy, we need all of our regions to achieve to their potential.
"Each region has advantages which it can build upon and diversify from. The problem is not a lack of opportunities - it's how we continue to do better at creating wealth and jobs from the opportunities we have."